Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Beautiful Australian Gardens

 Beautiful Australian Gardens

You can see many beautiful pictures of Australia, of its coasts, beaches, mountains and forests, but in this blog I want to share with you some pictures of some of the gardens where I’ve gardened in over the last forty years in this country, plus some of the wild life found in them.

This is the Australia that I’ve come to know intimately.

A Garden in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia

This was a garden around an old stone cottage. It was in these hills that my children grew up and on this property built many cubby houses. There was a garden around the house and an acreage on which we keep a number of animals. The garden was on a slope, and very suited to the stone features that were created there by my brother – a stonemason. Over the time we were there we kept; sheep, goats, a cow, guinea pigs, geese, chickens, cats and dogs.

                                  My youngest son, and his dog Honey

A Garden in a City Unit, in Melbourne, Victoria

This garden was more of a courtyard attached to a city unit. Here we had room for a balcony, a small garden shed, and a few small trees, and one very large eucalyptus, on which we hung a bird table that attracted many rainbow lorikeets. 


Rainbow Lorikeets visiting our city unit

A Garden at Lakeside, in Loch Sport, Victoria

This was a holiday home close to a beach and next to a lake. It was a very beautiful site, but three hours drive from where we were living at the time. However our children enjoyed the country living and opportunity to sail on the lake. They were also fascinated with the wild life. We often had kangaroos and echidnas in the garden with galahs, rainbow lorikeets and plus many other birds coming to the bird table.

An Echidna hiding in some straw

A Koala up a pole

A Garden in the Dandenong Mountains, Victoria

Whereas most of my gardens I’ve had to start from scratch this garden already had large trees, rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias. This has been another garden visited by colourful birds. Here beside those mentioned visiting our other gardens we also have king parrots that brighten up the bird table. (Cockatoos are not allowed to alight; they come in flocks and are too destructive.) 

Inquisitive King Parrots


A Desert Garden of a Friend

A house in an old opal mine

My blogging began with the story of my husband’s retirement project in Greece. For me that adventure began when I was staying with a friend in Coober Pedy, in a desert area of South Australia and received a phone call from him telling he that what he wanted to do next was to renovate an old house in Greece.
Coober Pedy is an opal-mining town, and it gets very hot in summer. The folk here often turn old underground opal mines into homes. This is the type of house that my friend has. She has a garden, though very different from the one I have in Victoria up in the mountains.

Her two kittens exploring the Sturt Desert Peas

March in Greece

Clean Monday or Katheri Deftera is 40 days before Easter. This year Greek Easter and Western Easter fall on the same weekend (it often doesn’t). This year Clean Monday will be on the 3rd of March. It is the day the housewives spring clean and marks the first day of lent.
March 2nd is Saint Theodore day.
March 19th is Crysanthos Day.
March 25th Independence Day

This is the Greek National Anniversary and a major religious holiday with military parades in the larger towns and cities.This celebrates Greece's victory in the war of Independence against the Turks who had occupied the country for 400 years.

The 25th of March was actually the day Bishop Germanos of Patras raised the flag of national rebellion at the monastery of Agia Lavra in the northern Peleponisos.

For Greece, the 25th of March is the equivalent to the 4th of July to Americans.  The Greeks celebrate this day with marches and celebrations throughout the country.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Climbers - creepers and twirlers

 Climbers – creepers and twirlers

Sunshine and Shade

Most Mediterranean gardens have charmingly shaded courtyards, pergolas covered with jasmine, flagged terraces decorated with terracotta pots filled with geraniums, and herb beds where aromatic plants provided scent and colour. They make pretty pictures. I dreamt of creating such a garden, and luckily we had a large enough plot to be able to accomplish much of this over time.  But, from the practical angle we needed shade. Planting trees was an obvious answer but pergolas, covered with vines, was another. Pergolas also offered structures for some interesting climbers and sites below them for shaded garden beds.


Putting up the main pergola

I had planned to section the garden herb beds, a wide, open courtyard for sitting in, an enclosed area for drying clothes, four useful vegetable beds in the kitchen garden. But what gives these areas added interest is that connecting these areas are shaded walkways, a pergola over the path from the main gate to the terrace, which also acts as a corridor linking most of the ‘rooms’ and merging into the pergola that surrounded the house.

Arch for Roses half way down the Shady Walk

The shady walk was coming along when the two conifers, planted to be trained into an arch died one hot summer.
So then we decided to replace them with an arch, covered with roses. The roses are yet to appear!

Some Creepers

I’ve always had difficulty trying to distinguish what the difference kinds of Virginia Creepers are. I hope I have the right names for the two I have in Lemnos.

Parthenocissus quinquefolia (five lobs).

This five lobed plant is very vigorous and will grow a stem as thick as a tree trunk. It does not cling as much as the three lobed Virginia Creeper. It has been a great cover-plant for our pergola (along with wisteria and a passion fruit). So now we can eat lunch in the summer sitting under deep shade, surrounded by the brightly lit garden all around us.

Parthenocissus tricuspidata (three lobs)

This is also called Boston ivy is self clinging and I have planted two plants to climb the house walls. This variety tends to go a deeper autumn red that the five lobed variety of Virginia Creeper.

A Naturally Shady Garden 

I’ve gardened in several gardens in Australia. There was one at a beach site, with sandy soil, hot sunshine and little water. Another is up in the hills behind Melbouren, with clay soil, and lots of trees, shade and rain. So, I’m aware of the difficulties of both sun and shade.

Nowadays, when in Australia we often spend time in the garden in the hills. Here there are forests with huge tree ferns and some of the tallest trees in the world. Here we are not seeking shade, and even in the summer months we have plenty of shade, as the large trees always throw dappled shade over the garden. Under these trees we can grow rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias, all plants that love shade and the cooler weather found in these hills. There are pergolas here, but further from the house, and not to provide shade, rather they are there to grow plants I love, like wisteria and roses.


I never get to see our wisterias in flower, either the one over the pergola in Greece, and the one in our Australian garden. This is because I always miss early spring in both countries.

But I can imagine them. This is not my garden, by the way.

The Chinese cultivated the wisterias that decorate our gardens. We actually owe much to Chinese gardeners of the past who cultivated so many of the plants we rely on, a contribution to the world economy that we probably take for granted. They probably domesticated rice, oranges, mandarins, cumquates, kiwifruit, persimmons, lychees, mulberries, peaches, apricots plus all those Chinese green leafy vegetables.

Tree Ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) and Australian Mountain Ash

These ferns are a common feature of forests in mountains where mist and drizzle are frequent as they are in our current Melbourne garden. The fronds are very large, divided into hundreds of thousands of small leaflets. As the ferns age they droop and dry, and hang like a brown skirt under the new green fronds above. They grow in the southern parts of Australia and grow in great abundance in the forests around our Australian home. Old plants can get to 20 ft. (7 m) tall. They require a sheltered position and do not like a dry atmosphere so would not do well in Lemnos!

It can get hot for a couple of months each summer up in these hills, though we usually get a few summer showers. But during the dry weather I water our ferns to stop them drying out. You need to water the top of a tree fern as the roots are above ground growing into their tall trunks.

(I’ve been told that they like banana skins so after breakfast when disposing of our banana skins I drop them into the center of each fern.)

Rampant Creepers

Vines are often meant to be vigorous but many are too vigorous. Anestis does not really like me planting creepers on the house as he had just painted it and the suckers of the Virginia Creepers leave marks on the painted surface. However I have seen this plant used in England on old houses, and feel that it can also help to cool the house. So we have struck a deal. Anestis will allow it to grow in two patches, and trims these back twice a year.

Twirlers and Creepers
Bindweed my Lemnian ‘terrorist’ 

This plant is the bane of my life in Lemnos. You always have at least one in each garden. This is the main weed in Lemnos.  It has white flowers and silvery leaves, and every little bit of it roots. So it is no use just pulling it up, or as Anestis does hoe the top off. It just arises again like a multi-headed hydra.  It will survive most winters and loves hot dry soils.

Glory Vine my Australian ‘terrorist’

I have a similar problem in my Melbourne garden with another kind of convolvulus, the Glory Vine, one with larger heart shaped leaves and a larger flower. It too burrows all over the garden, popping up to try to strangle any plant in its path.


This is another vine that tends to take over. I have had Honeysuckles in all my gardens. The Greek name for this plant is Ayioklima - literally the climbing saint. I have planted this in two spots in the garden in Lemnos.  One is on a trellis to screen the laundry and the other is on one help create the shady walk. In both places it would soon take over and though I love the heady scent of this saintly bush I have to do some pretty serious cutting back at least once in the year. In one location I have to free Lantana bushes and in the other keep the plant out of a nearby row of grape vines.

The Honeysuckle
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Plucked a honeysuckle where
The hedge on high is quick with thorn,
And climbing for the prize, was torn,
And fouled my feet in quag-water;
And by the thorns and by the wind
The blossom that I took was thinn’d
And yet I found it sweet and fair.

Then to a richer growth I came,
Where, nursed in mellow intercourse,
The honeysuckles sprang by scores,
Not harried like my single stem,
All virgin lamps of scent and dew.
So from my hand that first I threw,
Yet plucked not any more of them.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Rabbits and Spices

Rabbits and Spices 

Variety's the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavour.
William Cowper

My spice rack in Australia 

My spice rack in Australia, made by Takis and hung on the back of the pantry door. And I have to admit that, like so many women, I find it hard to throw out something I might want to use one day!

The Greek Spice Rack

A common ingredient of béchamel sauce, also used in stews and meat sauces.
Aniseed/ Glickanisso
Widely used in ancient Greece. Today it is mainly used in biscuits and cakes, and as flavouring for ouzo and sausages.
Cinnamon finds it way into many Greek sauces and stews, pastries and cookies. It is always sprinkled over rice pudding and Lukamadas
Whole clovers are added to stews and sauces, ground cloves are added to breads, biscuits and sweets.
Cumin is added to meat dishes like stifado and  meatballs.
Thee seeds are added to sausage mixes, pickles, breads and some fish and pork stews.
This is made from the dried seeds of wild cherry, boiled and then pounded. It is used in Middle Eastern cooking. In Greece it is used in festive breads and some cakes.
The resinous sap collected from the pistacia lentiscus tree that grows on the island of Chios. It is used to flavour sweets, breads and ice breams.
Like allspice, it is used in béchamel, stews and sauces and in some sweets.
Highly prized by the ancient Greeks, both as a food spice and dye for colouring cloth. It is grown in Greece and exported, though not widely used. However it is required for some biscuits and cake recipes.
Sesame Seeds/Soussami
These seeds are mostly sprinkled over breads, pies and biscuits.  A sesame sweet is offered at weddings. Tahini, a sesame paste, is used to make hummus, and a Lenten fasting soup.

Using Spices

Many Lemians shoot and eat rabbits, and the following recipe is well known.  Stifado is a spicy, long baked, stew, with the addition of many onion which mask the strong flavour of the rabbit. The final result is delicious!

A Stifado Story
One of our neighbours told us this story. He had a bronchial cough that seemed to just hang on. He went to the hospital doctor who ex-rayed his chest. While doing this he could hear the doctor chuckling. He asked what was the matter and it was explained to him his chest was OK, it would clear up soon, but he was amused as he had some shot gun pellets in his stomach. Not to worry the doctor said, it would eventually pass through. The doctor then asked him what he had recently eaten and he admitted he’d been to a local taverna and eaten Siffado the previous evening. Ah, the doctor said, locally shot rabbits! That’s your problem!


When a man's stomach is full it makes no difference whether he is rich or poor.
Euripides (BC 480-406) Greek poet

Stifado  Recipe

1 kg of rabbit pieces (or stewing beef - chuck or brisket) This can be marinated overnight in the red wine and vinegar plus spices.

750 grams small onions, peeled. You want the onions to remain whole during the long cooking so don’t chop off the root end too close.

2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp butter
 2 tsp olive oil
2 bay leaves
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 cinnamon sticks
half nutmeg, grated
4 whole cloves
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
400 tomato pieces
2 tbsp tomato paste
100 ml red wine
1 tbsp white sugar
sea salt and pepper
4 tbsp finely chopped parsley.

Heat the oven to 150C Divide the meat into 4-8 pieces and coat lightly with the flour.

Heat the butter and oil in a large ovenproof casserole and brown the meat on all sides, a few pieces at a time. When browned, return all the meat to the pan, add the bay leaves, garlic, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cumin, tossing well for a minute or two.

Add onions, vinegar, tomato pieces and tomato paste, wine, sugar, salt and pepper to taste, and enough water or stock to cover the meat.

Bring to the boil, cover with a tight-fitting lid, then transfer to the oven and cook for 2-3 hours or until tender, stirring occasionally. Scatter with parsley and serve with small noodles or orzo (rice shaped pasta).


One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.
Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) British novelist and essayist

Hummus is one of the more popular Middle Eastern dips. Served with fresh or toasted pita bread, hummus makes for a great snack or appetizer. Tahini is an important part of the hummus recipe and cannot be substituted.
1 16 oz can of chickpeas or garbanzo beans
1/4 cup liquid from can of chickpeas
3-5 tablespoons lemon juice (depending on taste)
1 1/2 tablespoons tahini
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

Drain chickpeas and set aside liquid from can. Combine remaining ingredients in blender or food processor. Add 1/4 cup of liquid from chickpeas. Blend for 3-5 minutes on low until thoroughly mixed and smooth. Place in serving bowl, and create a shallow well in the center of the hummus. Add a small amount (1-2 tablespoons) of olive oil in the well. Garnish with parsley (optional). Serve immediately with fresh, warm or toasted pita bread, or cover and refrigerate.
Takis’s hummus uses dried chickpeas. This takes much longer to prepare than using tinned peas, but has a very smooth taste. The chickpeas are soaked overnight then cooked until soft. He then lets them cool and (with me helping) takes off the outer skins. After this the process is much the same as above.
The most dangerous food to eat is a wedding cake. Proverb

Walnut Cake 
another good Lenten cake, without olive oil, and dairy products

The most dangerous food to eat is a wedding cake. Proverb

150 grams   light vegetable oil

175 grams   sugar
90 grams     roughly chopped walnuts
40 grams     raisins
40 grams     sultanas
300 grams   water
85 grams     brandy
5 grams       ground cinnamon
350 grams   plain flour
20 grams     baking powder
10 grams     bicarbonate soda
finely grated zest of one lemon.

Preheat the oven to 170C
Beat the oil with the sugar, add water, then the soda diluted with the brandy.
Add the lemon zest, sultanas, raisins and walnut pieces.
Shift in the flour with the baking powder and the ground cinnamon.
Mix well with the rest of the ingredients.

Bake in an oiled tin for 1 hour.
When cool top with icing sugar and cinnamon, or with melted chocolate.

Rabbits in Australia

Rabbits were introduced into Australia by the early colonialists and soon multiplied. They became pests that threatened pastoral properties, competing with sheep for the pastures.

The State Barrier Fence of Western Australia, formerly known as the Rabbit Proof Fence, was constructed between 1901 and 1907 to keep rabbits and other agricultural pests from the east out of Western Australian pastoral areas. There are three fences in Western Australia: the original fence crosses the state from north to south, another fence is smaller and further west, and the third fence is smaller still and runs east–west. The fences took six years to build. When completed in 1907, the rabbit-proof fence (including all three fences) stretched 2,023 miles (3,256 km). The cost to build the fences at the time was about £167 per mile ($250/km) and when it was completed in 1907, the 1,139-mile (1,833 km) first fence was the longest unbroken fence in the world.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

The Old Furno

 The Old Furno

Living in this house we have a responsibility towards its history, to protect it. When we discovered an old fireplace in the house, behind the plasterwork, we could see it had not been used as a fireplace as the brickwork was so clean, but it had a strange arrangement in the front. We guessed this structure had been used to keeping pans warm. Maybe with a few hot coals placed under the saucepans that had been brought there from the furno outside. This fireplace was on the middle floor, and the meal would have been carried to the old dining room, which was where Takis grandmother and her nine children would have been waiting. We renovated this fireplace but we also renovated the old outside furno. We noticed that the fact we did not pull it down please many people in our neighbourhood. This was because in the past when someone in the village lit their large furno many neighbours would arrive with dishes to be cooked there too. Nowadays each housewife has an oven in her kitchen, but many still remember the days when this kind of cooperative baking occurred. We have not used the furno often but renovation was important, as it has been central to the life of this house for so long. So our two trusty stonemasons rebuilt the furno room, and the furno chimney.

Bread and Pizzas

Once Takis’ made an attempt at lighting the furno, but the difficulty of making bread that would rise and be ready to pop into the wood oven at the crucial temperature point decided us it was much easier to stick to a modern oven with a temperature gauge, and we didn’t try to light the wood oven again.

Psomi (Bread)

Nearly every day Takis drove down to the bakery to buy us a couple of loaves from the bakery which we ate while still warm for breakfast. We loved having fresh bread some days, but what was left we sliced and froze to be used the next day.
In the past the Lemnian women baked once a week in the traditional wood-fired ovens. As Ourania wrote, ‘By tradition, they made their own live yeast from the holy water and basil plant the parish priest handed out on the 14th September, when the Orthodox Church honours The Holy Cross.’
The baked bread had to last for a week; to ensure this the women placed the loaves on a long plank called a Kania, suspended by a rope from the beams of the ceiling, ‘thus keeping bread out of the reach of both mice and hungry children!’


Tony and Takis prepare the furno for pizzas

Lisa and Tony preparing the pizzas

Pizzas for Lunch

It all began with a watermelon 

When Takis daughter Lisa and her partner Tony came to stay they decided to use the furno to make  pizza’s.  But now, inspired by Tony’s enthusiasm, Takis and Anestis spent the day surveying the oven’s capacious interior. On looking into its depths the group were filled with anxiety as they recognised some problems. It was clear they’d have to level the floor and replace some of the firebricks.

Nothing daunted, Takis and Tony went off to buy some new bricks. On returning these two decided that Anestis should be the one to climb inside and do the repairs. They reasoned that Anestis was best suited to do this as the oven, though large, had a very small opening, and Anestis was the smallest of the three. Thus he climbed into the oven, though this was only accomplished with his feet sticking out of the door. Because I tend to feel claustrophobic, watching Anestis in this cramped space made me decide to leave them to it, and I went off to do some gardening. Lisa however was recording each of the stages with her ever-present camera. I later rejoined them when all was repaired and Anestis was back with his feet on the ground again.

We couldn’t continue the pizza project immediately as the cement needed to cure for a day or two, and since the weather was particularly hot at the time it seemed a good idea to leave lighting the oven for a week or two. Finally the day of the firing arrived, and Tony and Lisa got busy in the kitchen making pizzas, vegetarian ones for Lisa and some hotter salami ones to please Tony’s palate. Anestis and Takis fired up the oven.

They filled the furno with small twigs which were lit and became hot enough to turn the bricks white. Then they raked the coals aside and created a space for the pizza trays. And bravely using an old-fashioned very long-handled wooded oven shovel, Tony loaded the first batch. These were very successful and very delicious. A second batch needed a little longer so we sat down wait. Then – disaster! When getting them out of the oven Tony swung the long-handled shovel around and hit the wall with it. Pizzas went flying everywhere. Oh well, old-fashioned country skills take a while to perfect.

The Australian Barbie

The outdoor barbeque is a tradition in many countries. It certainly is in Australia. I had a friend who told me that it is not long before new Australian’s pick up this tradition of eating outside. It is a tradition that suits this countryside; a tradition begun by native Australians. And the most important day for Australians to light up their barbeques is Australia Day. Australia Day is on January 26 and commemorates the establishment of the first European settlement at Port Jackson, now part of Sydney, in 1788. It is an opportunity for Australians to come together to celebrate their country and culture. Though it is also the day some native Australians call Invasion Day!

Our Outdoor Barbie in Lemnos

On the island today when we have a barbeque we tend to use another barbeque build on the terrace.  This one is easier to light, closer to the table, and not such a hot furnace as the old furno when it is lit.

Takis' Marinated Barbequed Chicken

All our guests enjoying this simple barbeque chicken fillets.
The secret is on this Mediterranean marinate.
2 free-range skinless chicken fillets cut in 2 inch pieces
half a cup of olive oil
the juice of a large lemon
a pinch of salt
one  clove of garlic squashed
one teaspoon of dried oregano (Limnian of course)
Mix the ingredients and marinate the chicken pieces for about one hour, keep in the fridge.
Do not over cook, it will go dry.

ps. He says use charcoal on the grill!